For quite a while I’d been eying Katia Amore’s recipe for chocolate and Champagne chicken, a Sicilian Easter dish. Chicken thighs simmered in a sauce of onion, fennel, clove, hot red pepper and, of course, bittersweet chocolate. I knew this dish had interesting roots in Aztec chocolate, Mexican mole and Italy’s Baroque cooking traditions of the 16th and 17th centuries. But chicken and chocolate on the same plate, that just sounded weird.
My recent post about Katia renewed my curiosity about her chocolate chicken, which she recommends serving for an Easter lunch. Then our neighbors Joe and Lynn, who (lucky them) own a home in Modica, brought me a bar of that southeast Sicilian city’s distinctive chocolate.
Chocolate originally made its way to Sicily from Mexico via the Spaniards who conquered both lands. As Katia explains, Modica artisans make it from cocoa beans, following a low-heat method similar to that of the Aztecs, and it retains nuances of flavor lost in conventional ways of making chocolate. With no added cocoa butter, the chocolate has a gritty texture because it never gets hot enough to melt the sugar. This is not a nibbling chocolate but one that turns rich and creamy when dissolved in a hot liquid.
So, with Easter on the way, I finally made chocolate chicken. Which, as it turns out, tastes quite good. Like that of a well-made mole, the sauce is a harmonious blend that hits every taste marker. It fits in with the Sicilian tradition of agrodolce (sweet and sour) but with added complexity contributed by the chocolate and a mild hit of heat at the end. No need to analyze this way while eating–just enjoy the chicken with its dark, luxuriously rich sauce.
I’ve made this Sicilian-Aztec novelty dish a couple of times, and my version of Katia’s recipe includes a bit of tinkering as well as conversion to American measurements. I found that white wine works as a substitute for the prosecco and that any bittersweet chocolate is fine in the likely event that you don’t have Modica chocolate on hand. Katia serves her chocolate chicken with “potato puré,” equivalent to but more elegant sounding than mashed potatoes, and rice is also good.
Katia’s Chocolate and Champagne Chicken
Makes 4 to 6 servings
8 bone-in chicken thighs (3 to 3 ½ pounds)
1 cup (or more) prosecco, Champagne or white wine
1 tablespoon fennel seeds
Sea salt or kosher salt
Extra virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
3 tablespoons white wine vinegar
1 ounce bittersweet chocolate (preferably from Modica), grated
1 tablespoon sugar
1/8 teaspoon ground clove
Ground hot red pepper, to taste
Fresh oregano or marjoram leaves (optional)
1. Arrange the chicken in a single layer in a nonreactive dish (such as Pyrex). Pour 1/2 cup prosecco over the thighs, turning them to moisten. Marinate, refrigerated, for several hours or overnight.
2. In a mini-processor or using a mortar and pestle, grind the fennel seeds to a coarse consistency.
3. Drain the chicken, discarding the liquid, and blot dry with paper towels. Salt on both sides. Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium-high heat in a large skillet. Cook on both sides until golden brown. Transfer the chicken to a platter.
4. Add a little more oil to the skillet if needed (or, if the chicken generated a lot of fat, pour off all but enough to coat the bottom of the skillet). Over medium heat, cook the onion until soft and golden. Reduce the heat to low and stir in the vinegar, chocolate, sugar, fennel, clove and a light sprinkling of red pepper (about 1/8 teaspoon). Stir until dissolved.
5. Return the chicken thighs to the skillet, spooning the sauce over them. Add 1/2 cup prosecco and simmer, partly covered, over medium-low heat until the thighs are tender and the sauce is fairly thick, about 25 minutes. If the sauce thickens too much, add a splash of prosecco or water.
6. Taste the sauce and add more salt or hot red pepper as needed. Garnish with oregano leaves, if using, and serve with mashed potatoes or rice. This dish reheats very well.